Platforms: Atari ST and Commodore Amiga
John Phillips was a brilliant developer who created classics such as Nebulus and Eliminator, and was to extend his exciting catalog of games with a new title called Scavenger for Hewson software back in 1990.
The idea of the game was to be a time travel title, and scrolled horizontally with a series of puzzles that had to be solved. Later though, it is documented that the game evolved into a sort of 3D version of Ghouls ‘n’ Ghosts, utilizing a sophisticated shadowing effect that was way ahead of its time.
A rough story suggests that you have been banished to wander the time lanes for the rest of your life, but discover a way that may allow you to get home. By taking key items from one level and taking them to another zone, the game would allow you to open a path home – but not before having to deal with a series of deadly creatures in your path.
You would have to travel through zones such as Ancient Egypt, China, Rome and Prehistoric eras, whilst trying to solve various puzzles along the way to get yourself home.
Magazines of the time showed a very neat looking Egyptian-themed level, which were depicted as early graphics for the game. It didn’t seem to be a mock up, as the sprites were slightly different in each shot.
According to The One magazine, Hewson had decided to cancel the game when they felt it wasn’t possible to produce a game using the method John had come up with to justify a full price tag. Slightly odd decision perhaps. However, this isn’t quite what it seems, which we will talk about further below.
Originally, we questioned whether anything may have survived of the game. Was it just a technical demo, was it a puzzler or an action-orientated game or both? Many questions needed answers.
Thanks to Grzegorz Antosiewicz, it was flagged up that an early demo on the Atari ST has long been floating around. Taking a look, it feels quite advanced, but still with plenty of work to do and add to the game. Certainly its missing most of the Egyptian themed graphics that were shown in the press.
We managed to catch up with John, who confirmed that he wrote the game on the Atari ST first, before later switching over to the Amiga. The idea was centered around the amazing shadow technique, where John had an ST editor that let him place and move blocks – sort of like an early Minecraft.
The technique became necessity at the time, so John could show relative heights of blocks. It was achieved by marking segments that formed background tiles as being horizontal or vertical surfaces – creating shadows from each block until hitting surfaces. Many pre-calculated tables were needed to create the shadows and warping techniques.
At a later stage, the game took a different design direction, becoming a more 3D version of Stormlord with horizontal scrolling. At this stage, graphics were provided from Mark Jones (who had been working on Stormlord at the time). This might have been a result of the “cancellation” that The One reported, and where John went back to the drawing board to resurrect the idea.
This later version is currently still at large. Unfortunately John suffered a stroke in 2017 and has been slowly rehabilitating since, so he has been unable to look for any back ups.
Thankfully, something of the early Atari ST demo has managed to surface, based in the Rome zone, and you can download and check some of the game out for yourself. It is playable, with the ability of killing enemies, opening doors and navigating around the map.
It had plenty of promise, which made its cancellation even more tragic. So, as alluded to earlier, the cancellation overall wasn’t because Hewson decided so, but was due to the collapse of the company. Once Hewson had got into trouble, John had decided to go and work for The Bitmap Bros – it was at that point the game was canned according to John.
Hopefully some day we’ll get to see more of the title, but for now – check out the promising ST demo for yourself.
With thanks to Karl Kuras for the submission and scans, Grzegorz Antosiewicz for highlighting the Atari ST edition out there already and additional scans, AtariMania for the download, Ross Sillifant for the corrections and extra scans, Kevin Chamberlain for the additional info and John Phillips himself for information about the development.